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Part-to-whole relationships | Lesson

A guide to "part-to-whole relationships" questions on the digital SAT

What are "part-to-whole relationships" questions?

On the Reading and Writing section of your SAT, some questions will require you to read a short text with one underlined sentence. The question will then ask you to identify the function of the underlined sentence within the text as a whole.
Part-to-whole relationships questions will look like this:

Part-to-whole relationships: example
The following text is from Herman Melville’s 1854 novel The Lightning-rod Man.
The stranger still stood in the exact middle of the cottage, where he had first planted himself. His singularity impelled a closer scrutiny. A lean, gloomy figure. Hair dark and lank, mattedly streaked over his brow. His sunken pitfalls of eyes were ringed by indigo halos, and played with an innocuous sort of lightning: the gleam without the bolt. The whole man was dripping. He stood in a puddle on the bare oak floor: his strange walking-stick vertically resting at his side.
Which choice best states the function of the underlined sentence in the overall structure of the text?
Choose 1 answer:

How should we think about part-to-whole relationships questions?

Part-to-whole relationships questions are a type of text structure and purpose questions. To succeed on these questions, we need to understand what the author is trying to achieve in the text, as well as how the text works to achieve that purpose.
But while other text structure and purpose questions focus on the entire passage, part-to-whole relationships questions require us to focus on one specific part of the text: the underlined portion.
  • What information does the underlined portion contain?
  • How does that information relate to the rest of the text? What is its function? In other words, what does it do?
Answering these questions will allow us to determine what role the underlined portion plays in the flow of the text.

How to approach part-to-whole relationships questions

To solve part-to-whole relationships questions, consider following these steps:
Step 1: Summarize the text
Read the passage closely and summarize the ideas you encounter. Try to boil the whole text down to one or two simple points. Give some extra attention to the underlined portion: you know the question will focus on it!
Rephrasing things in your own words will give you a strong understanding of the "whole" of the passage. This will make it much easier to identify how the "part" functions within that whole.
Step 2: Make a prediction
Once you have a firm understanding of the entire passage, you should try to state the function of the underlined portion in your own words.
  • How does the underlined portion fit into the text?
  • Does it introduce what comes next?
  • Does it contradict what came before?
Comparing the information in the underlined portion with what comes immediately before and immediately after will often reveal how that information contributes to the flow of the text.
Step 3: Test the choices
Compare your prediction to each of the choices. Which choice most closely matches your prediction? You can select that choice with confidence!

Top tips

Stay within the underline!

Make sure the choice you select applies directly and specifically to the underlined portion. Other choices may correctly identify the function of other sentences within the text, so make sure you're looking in the right place!

Be strict

Choices on part-to-whole relationships may often seem partly correct. Maybe they describe the "part" accurately, but not the "whole". Eliminate any choices that feel kind of correct, but that contain a detail or two that doesn't match the text. A choice must be entirely accurate to be the answer.

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